"FEMA's Contracting Disaster"
Sean Reilly, Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch:
WASHINGTON -- Understaffed, unprepared and utterly overwhelmed.(More...) Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch is a project of the Institute for Southern Studies.
Such was the state of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's contracting shop when Hurricane Katrina struck last August, according to a new congressional report.
'Procurement officials acknowledged the initial contracting response was poor, with little planning and inadequate resources,' says the report, released last week by a House committee probing the response to Katrina. While the panel's findings of failures at all levels of government have gotten widespread coverage, the press has paid far less attention to an illuminating chapter on flaws in logistics and contracting operations.
Although FEMA's 'acquisition unit' was supposed to have 55 employees, for example, only 36 of those slots were filled when Katrina hit. For more than two weeks afterward -- in what officials labeled 'the real nightmare emergency' -- FEMA generally didn't bother with written contracts for food, ice, buses and other supplies. Instead, the agency 'simply instructed companies to begin work and submit vouchers for payment,' the report says.
With no apparent irony, the report's authors note that 'this could raise issues of enforceability' once written contracts are issued.